Years of planning and tens of millions of dollars went into Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Taxi of Tomorrow initiative. But a court recently blocked the program, and incoming mayor Bill de Blasio also opposes it. So a last-minute push is underway to advance the project before he takes office. Bobby Cuza filed the second part of his series, “Shifting Gears: An Uncertain Future for Taxis.”
Tomorrow has finally arrived.
Sixteen of the Nissan NV200s, the so-called Taxi of Tomorrow, are now on city streets. They boast superior safety features, lots of leg room and bells and whistles like backseat climate control and charging ports.
Not to mention a panoramic roof.
“It’s entirely about a better experience for the passenger and for the driver in fact,” said David Yassky, chairman of the Taxi & Limousine Commission.
But in October, a state judge blocked plans to require that virtually all 13,000 of the city’s taxis convert to the NV200, ruling the Taxi & Limousine Commission had “exceeded its authority.”
“We had this one vehicle shoved down our throats,” said David Pollack of the Committee for Taxi Safety.
Industry groups like Pollack’s saw the program as an unfair mandate. Others objected the vehicle wouldn’t initially be available in a hybrid or wheelchair-accessible model.
“Disability advocates did not like it. The clean-air advocates did not like it. The owners didn’t like it and the drivers didn’t like it,” said Ethan Gerber of the Greater NY Taxi Association.
And neither did Bill de Blasio, who’s long criticized the vehicle for being inaccessible and foreign-made.
But not everyone is a critic.
“I think the experience is transformative,” said Paul Herzan, a self-styled passenger advocate who had input on the project.
Herzan said the custom design is a quantum leap forward.
“It’s a huge win from a safety, public safety standpoint,” he said.
The Bloomberg administration is appealing the judge’s decision, but the appeal won’t be heard until January, after Bill de Blasio takes office. De Blasio may choose to drop the appeal or otherwise discontinue the program, but that could potentially leave the city on the hook for an estimated $70 million Nissan has already invested in the project.
In the meantime, the city is attempting one last-ditch maneuver before de Blasio takes office.
Thursday the TLC will vote on a requirement that vehicles be crash-tested with the partition installed.
The only vehicle that qualifies? The NV200.
Industry groups say they’ll again take the city to court.